If you knew nothing of hype, names, uniform numbers or expectations, and all you did was watch the defensive front four of the South Carolina Gamecocks, you might ask, "Who is this No. 99?" before you asked about No. 7.
That's not as much a knock on highly touted — and dissected and criticized — prospect Jadeveon Clowney as it is a tip of the cap to Kelcy Quarles.
Quarles reportedly will enter the NFL's draft pool after the season, according to his father via GoGamecocks.com, and not without good reason. The true junior defensive tackle leads the team in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (11) and has had a far bigger statistical impact than Clowney, even though it's unfair to compare the two.
First, it's clear that teams are game-planning against Clowney more, and that's freeing up Quarles to be the primary playmaker. Nowhere was that more evident than in the double-OT win over No. 8 Missouri two weeks ago when the Tigers slanted protection Clowney's direction (but also ran at him, too) and it helped allow Quarles to post two sacks among his three tackles behind the line.
In a defensive tackle class that, as of now, looks pretty thin at the top, Quarles at least has a shot to be the first taken at the position. He has a vastly different body and skill set as compared to two other highly touted players at the position, Notre Dame's stout Louis Nix III and Minnesota's long and strong RaShede Hageman, so it will come down to the tastes and needs of teams that are seeking help at the position.
But Quarles is a monster who only should continue shining. Perhaps teams should start adjusting their blocking schemes accordingly.
Early NFL team draft needs
We're about halfway through the NFL season, and personnel matters are becoming more clear. In lieu of our premature mock draft series (which now has been on an overdue, two-week hiatus), we present to you an early look at what teams might be seeking in next May's draft.
1. Safety 2. Right tackle 3. Outside linebacker
Both safety spots could stand upgrading, especially if Jairus Byrd moves on. But with a high first-rounder? Not sure.
1. Offensive tackle 2. Offensive guard 3. Tight end
Both tackle spots likely will need reinforcements, as will guard following the Incognito-Martin saga.
New England Patriots
1. Defensive tackle 2. Wide receiver 3. Interior offensive line
Patching together inside on defense only will work for so long. They have drafted one DT (Ron Brace) higher than the fourth round since 2004.
New York Jets
1. Wide receiver 2. Offensive guard 3. Tight end
This one is obvious. If you're going to build around Geno Smith, you have to give him playmakers. They have few now.
1. Tight end 2. Wide receiver 3. Offensive tackle
Notice a theme here? The offense has been miserable following the Super Bowl victory, and they'll seek players who can separate.
1. Linebacker 2. Defensive tackle 3. Defensive back
The LB group is somewhat underwhelming, but the Bengals are deep enough to take any talented defender to keep beefing up.
1. Quarterback 2. Running back 3. Wide receiver
No team has bigger voids or questions at all three positions, except for perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback is most pressing.
1. Left tackle 2. Safety 3. Wide receiver
We've been screaming it for years: Find a left tackle. They have no choice now. Replacing Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark will need to happen soon, too.
1. Right tackle 2. Quarterback 3. Outside linebacker
Some might say QB first, but we're assuming that Case Keenum and Gary Kubiak finish strong and return. The right side of the line is weak.
1. Wide receiver 2. Offensive line 3. Defensive line
With no first-rounder, they must wait, but there will be changes at receiver and depth and talent are needed along both fronts.
1. Quarterback 2. Running back 3. Wide receiver
No, they are not copying the Browns. They just happen to have some of the same, brutally obvious deficiencies.
1. Cornerback 2. Offensive tackle 3. Quarterback
A lot depends on whether Alterraun Verner tests (and leaves via) free agency. If he stays, the team must groom some new OT talent.
1. Offensive tackle 2. Defensive line 3. Cornerback
There are cracks in the infrastructure, and finding anchors and reinforcements at these key, tough-to-find positions is essential to contend for another year or more.
Kansas City Chiefs
1. Wide receiver 2. Tight end 3. Defensive end
The lack of downfield production has held the team back (as much as a 9-0 team can be held back), as has the lack of a seam-splitting tight end.
1. Defensive end 2. Wide receiver 3. Right tackle
A full draft class! Rejoice! The Raiders have masked glaring needs this season at times, but the time is nigh to fill them, especially with Lamarr Houston perhaps leaving for big bucks.
San Diego Chargers
1. Outside linebacker 2. Running back 3. Offensive line
Another edge player on defense will be needed to attack and contain a diverse set of AFC West quarterbacks, plus depth at several other spots.
1. Defensive line 2. Offensive guard 3. Safety
The Cowboys must — absolutely must — get better up front, and they have decisions to make with Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher, with a horrible cap situation to boot.
New York Giants
1. Offensive tackle 2. Defensive end 3. Wide receiver
The Giants need to move on from David Diehl (and perhaps Will Beatty, even though he has been better of late), as well as add some pass-rushing juice.
1. Quarterback 2. Defensive back 3. Wide receiver
Nick Foles has the chance to prove he's the guy, but Chip Kelly is almost certain to draft a QB at some point. Another DB, either a corner or safety, also is needed.
1. Defensive back 2. Wide receiver 3. Inside linebacker
Even after a draft class chock full of DB help, the Redskins could use more. They also must replenish the other spots, which could be affected by retirement and free agency.
1. Defensive tackle 2. Safety 3. Quarterback
Depending on what happens with free-agent-to-be Jay Cutler, the Bears must get stronger up the middle defensively, too.
1. Wide receiver 2. Linebacker 3. Right tackle
It's imperative that Calvin Johnson is gifted a quality running mate (... and the cruel WR/Matt Millen joke perpetuates), but a few other spots need fixing, too.
Green Bay Packers
1. Tight end 2. Defensive line 3. Linebacker
It's not GM Ted Thompson's pattern to over-draft strictly for need, but this position certainly requires upgrading at some point high.
1. Quarterback 2. Defensive end 3. Linebacker
Even if Christian Ponder (not likely) or Josh Freeman (semi-likely) are back, the Vikings must consider taking a QB with their first-round pick before healing an aging defense.
1. Defensive line 2. Offensive line 3. Running back
This team must get stronger and more talented in the trenches before it tries to solve ancillary future needs such as running back or tight end.
1. Offensive tackle 2. Wide receiver 3. Defensive back
Jordan Gross, excellent as he is, is in the twilight of his career, and right tackle is a fixable spot, too. A physical receiver and a ballhawking DB would be next.
New Orleans Saints
1. Cornerback 2. Pass rusher 3. Offensive line
The top two needs are almost interchangeable, and a few spots on the offensive line likely will need reinforcements this coming season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1. Quarterback 2. Defensive end 3. Tight end
Mike Glennon has played relatively well, but a coaching change (and a possible front-office shakeup) could bring with it a different quarterback. Another pass rusher is needed, too.
1. Quarterback 2. Offensive line 3. Defensive line
The top two spots are musts, and you'd have to think after a defensive-themed draft in 2013, Bruce Arians will push for major upgrades for his offense.
St. Louis Rams
1. Safety 2. Quarterback 3. Offensive line
There are other needs, too, but an extra first-rounder should help satisfy most of them. Safety is pressing, but that could change after a decision is made on Sam Bradford's future.
San Francisco 49ers
1. Wide receiver 2. Defensive line 3. Defensive backs
There's no question the team will seek immediate contributors with playmaking ability at wideout given Anquan Boldin's age and the dearth at other spots.
1. Offensive tackle 2. Wide receiver 3. Tight end
The Seahawks really could stand up upgrade at three of five OL spots, and they'll seek pass-catching talent to help diversify their offense.
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